Search This Blog

Saturday, August 31, 2019

20. Final Thoughts

So, this is my last post. I think I feel a tear coming to my eye…Honestly though, I think I am ready to move on from writing these. I’ve mentioned how I have thought long and hard about how I want to end these posts, and I’ve pined over the final message that I want to give for those that have read my blog. Rather than plan this out obsessively as I usually do, I think I will go with a different approach. I’m just going to write. And I hope that as I write, my honest thoughts and feelings are expressed. I hope this doesn’t go from J.K. Rowling to Stephenie Meyer quality as a result, but hey, Twilight was pretty popular…

To start, I should probably include a summary of my blog in order to reiterate where I’ve gone with these posts. I began with an introduction about what I hoped to achieve by writing these. I think I will include more information on whether my hoped-for goals were reached later in the post. In my second article, I discussed my own history in the church with the important aspect being I was a complete believer. I had spiritual experiences. I believed everything and did everything I was asked to. In post three I described where my doubts began, including that I did not feel recharged or spiritually uplifted by attending church, nor did I feel the promised joy by attending. I continue by giving a definition of what information actually fits the term “Anti-Mormon,” with one important point being that if information is true, it can no longer be deemed anti-Mormon. And in my fifth post I discuss my process of researching the church, including where I got my information as well as how it felt to go through a faith crisis.

My next three posts were what I call my disclaimer posts. My sixth, seventh, and eighth entries were the specific problematic issues that I learned about during my research. I dubbed them my disclaimer posts because I placed large warnings before each of them so believing members of the LDS church would not stumble into them by accident or without fully knowing what they were getting into. In the church we are taught not to research information that is not given by “reliable sources,” AKA the church, out of fear we may lose our faith. In the first two of these posts I include information that the church acknowledges on its own website in its Gospel Topics Essays. In the last of these three posts, I included information that is not acknowledged by the church yet is very problematic to its truth claims. In my ninth post I discuss how devastating it was to discover these issues and to conclude that they were not compatible with the church being God’s one and only true church on the earth. I also wrote about my stages of grief and loss. I then copy and pasted (don’t judge me, lol) the letter I wrote to my family and close friends letting them know about my disbelief. I discuss how relationships were affected by my loss of belief and move on to explain what believing members can do to support those that lose their faith or stop attending church. This twelfth post was not read as much as I had hoped, as I believe it is one of the most important posts I have shared. In my 13th post, I discussed how members often must change what and how they believe when they know the issues within the church, with the end result being that their faith is very different than that which is taught over the pulpit. I also included positive aspects of the church that I appreciated being a part of my life.

In my last several posts I had three friends write articles, most of whom have either stopped believing the truth claims of the church or have stopped attending completely. Kate discussed how it felt for her to lose her faith and as a result lose her faith community. Ryan, a currently attending non-believer, discussed his journey to disbelief as well as hoped for change within the church. Scott wrote directly to those that have left or no longer believe and offered suggestions for how we can maintain relationships with our family and friends that continue to believe in the church. These guest posts were some of the most read posts of my entire blog. I really appreciated the vulnerability Kate, Ryan, and Scott showed in writing these as their different perspectives were insightful and frankly amazing.  In the midst of these, in post 16, I include what I believe is harmful within the church. Whether you believe in the LDS church or not, it is my opinion that it is EXTREMELY important to acknowledge these specific issues and for each and every attending member of the church to make individual and informed decisions about these harmful aspects of the church.

These three friends may not be the last to write for this blog, as I may also have up to four others contribute at some point. Whether or not any come before I complete this final personal article, I’m not sure. These final guest posts will be from individuals with a spectrum of belief, from a non-believer, to a nuanced believer, to a mainstream believer. I hoped to offer several different perspectives, including from those that believe and attend church, in order to have some balance in viewpoints. Some members that know all of the issues find a way to continue believing, though it is almost always accompanied by a change in belief one way or another. But in the end, these more nuanced perspectives didn’t work for me as I could not make myself believe again after gaining the knowledge I did. But either way, this post is my last as I have said essentially all I have wanted to say.

But on to the question of whether I achieved what I wanted to by writing these posts. There were several goals I had when I set out to write this blog, which I listed in my very first article:

1.  To Receive Support: Whether it was after my initial post on Facebook on August 5th, 2018, or the entirety of my blog which I started February 23rd, 2019, I have found support by certain individuals. The vast majority of family and friends responded positively. I have noted that many members of the church that I am close with have not shunned me but have allowed our relationships to remain very similar to what they were before these events, even though we never talk about where I am in my faith journey. Several members have reached out to me and we have had very meaningful conversations that I believe were amazing. I hope that those that have met with me felt the same. I want to publicly say that these efforts are greatly appreciated. A couple who I was not close with previously have reached out as a result of my posts and have started very meaningful friendships. You know who you are and it is extremely valued.

However, I had hoped for a bit more support for my wife and myself through my “Dark Night of the Soul.” I had hoped for more texts, more calls, more contact. But I have come to realize that my expectations may have been unrealistic. I appreciate the positive responses that I have seen from friends and family, and I have learned to focus on this rather than what was not given.

2. A Way to Process my Pain: This goal was definitely successful. I have noted marked improvements in my own peace and contentment with my journey and with my life. I have attended church on occasion and I no longer feel the same anger that I did when hearing messages that I knew were inaccurate or that I did not agree with. By being open with my path, I have externalized much of the negative feelings I had roiling inside me. While I cannot say that I have completely healed through this process, I am much farther along than I was six months ago.

3. Understanding: This point is a mixed bag for me. For those that have read my blog in its entirety, and especially those that have taken the time to talk to me about where I am at, I do feel more understood. It was never my expectation or even my hope that those that read my blog would lose their faith or agree completely with every one of my conclusions. But I did hope that those that read would at least understand that my decisions were based on real issues, rather than based on the myths about why people lose their faith. I have had several believing members of the church say they have appreciated reading my blog specifically for the increased understanding on how difficult the process is for someone to lose their faith and/or stop attending church.

For those that read only parts of my blog or none at all, or who have not talked to me about my journey at all, for obvious reasons I do not feel understood. I am coming to realize that perhaps the majority of my active, believing LDS friends and family have not read every post, with some not reading any or very little. While I can understand why individuals would make that decision, it still leaves me feeling unheard and misunderstood. If you have not read my blog in its entirety, you do not understand me or my reasons for leaving. You will never understand those reasons without reading it all. I will not force anyone to read, particularly the disclaimer posts, as I realize these are extremely scary to have to think about. But without determining for yourself, through researching the original source material, you cannot come to an accurate conclusion about my choices. I am not saying you are pre-determined to believing the same way that I do, you may very well come to a different conclusion, but until you have researched the information that I have, you have based your faith on an incomplete set of information. And you have no real basis for judging me or my conclusions.

4. Be a Safe Place for Others that Doubt: This is a goal that I also believe was achieved. Since being open about my disbelief, I have had several previous members tell me that they no longer believe and have left the church. I have had several believing members approach me with specific issues and doubts. I have had several attending members tell me that they no longer believe or that they are significantly doubting. This last group is terrified of the possible repercussions. I find it interesting that even those that have approached me have often waited weeks or months to do so. I believe this is due to fear or shame. They fear what it might mean if they were to be more open about their disbelief. The possibilities are extremely scary, such as having a spouse leave them or family disown them. Due to this, later in this article I will ask for a very specific yet meaningful gesture from those believing members reading this.

But for now, I want to reiterate something I have said numerous times in these articles: If you have difficult questions or specific concerns, I am here for you. I have obviously come to a particular conclusion about the truth claims of the church, but those that have come to me know that I don’t have an agenda for anyone. I have specifically said to those that have approached me that, for some people, researching deeper or leaving the church may be the wrong decision for them. In the end I will answer any questions you have based on the knowledge that I have gained through my hundreds of hours of research (literally, that is not an exaggeration). If you are gay and don’t know what to do, I am here for you. If you have learned something disturbing about church history, I am here for you. If you have specific concerns about some aspect of the church doctrine or culture, I am here for you. And if you completely believe in the church and want to simply understand me, I am here for you too. No agenda. No preplanned end result. Just answers and support. No. Matter. What.

5. Dispel Myths of Why People Leave the Church: Again, for those that have read I do believe this goal was accomplished. To reiterate, both myself and many others that have decided to leave the church did not do so because we were lazy, had a desire to sin or were already sinning and lost the influence of the Spirit, were offended, or read lies about the church. It is quite the opposite. Those like me that have left have done so after many, many agonizing hours trying to make the church make sense in a faith promoting way. We wanted the church to be true. But we leave because we can no longer believe because specific information about the history and doctrine of the church has led us to this conclusion.

When I started writing, I used to need to prove to others that I had legitimate reasons for coming to the conclusion that the church was not true. Whether I was agreed with was irrelevant. I needed members to understand that I had legitimate concerns. I have come to realize that I cannot control anyone’s belief about me. I have let go of this expectation. I then needed to prove to myself, through writing this blog, that I had legitimate reasons. I no longer need to prove anything to myself. I know the reasons why I have made the decisions I have and I continue to believe very strongly that I have made correct ones. At this point forward, I don’t need to prove anything to anyone.

But I will say, I am open to any information that any member of the church believes would answer my questions. I have had several individuals send church articles to me, and I appreciate them reaching out. I have read every single thing that has been sent to me and I will continue to do so. I am often already familiar with the article that was sent (I have frequently already read it) but I always read them again. I am open to hearing any potential answer to difficult questions about the church. At this point, I can honestly say that I have not heard anything that has changed my mind about the truthfulness of the church. But I am open to hearing or reading any and all information that may challenge my conclusions.

I have heard from friends that just as much as I have worried that believing members of the church would judge me for leaving, believing members may worry that I will judge them for continuing to believe. I want to publicly say that I don’t judge you. I respect you and the reasons why you believe. I understand that you have had experiences that have been powerful for you, experiences that you can’t deny. I understand that you appreciate and love the community, teachings, and beliefs contained within the church. It makes sense to you. I honestly don’t believe you are stupid or naive for your belief. You are invested in the church. It is your everything. You have all the answers to all of life’s difficult or impossible questions. I get it. I used to feel exactly the same way. And I still feel a sense of loss at no longer having that feeling and surety. I completely understand your position as I used to be you. I accept you regardless of what you believe. Your faith is legitimate and valid. I hope that my change in faith is also seen as legitimate and valid as well.

Over the course of my faith transition, a lot has changed for me. I have discussed in past posts that when you go through a faith crisis and end in a faith transition, you have to re-evaluate everything you believe and why. As a result, I’m much more liberal than I used to be. I am much more accepting and supportive of different races, genders, religions, and sexual orientations. I definitely consider myself an ally. I drink coffee and alcohol on occasion. There, I said it. I believe in scientific findings on sexuality and sexual health based on research and evidence. I believe we have a responsibility to take care of the earth rather than wait for the Second Coming to make it all right again. I still don’t own guns but I do support increasing restrictions on gun ownership. While I’m sure these things will not ingratiate me with many members, I hope you respect my decisions. Again, if anyone ever wants to discuss any topic with me, I am honestly an open book. But I have reasons for every single change that has occurred. And I believe the vast majority of changes that have happened have made me into a better person, a better human, than I was before.

I want to reiterate something that I have said numerous times throughout these posts. I don’t hate the church. I don’t want to see it collapse and all the good it does be wasted. I want to see it improve. I appreciated Ryan’s comment in one of his posts where he admits he is a critic of the church but does not see it as a bad thing. He can be a critic of his favorite hockey team or TV show as well. Critics are those that point out the bad so that organizations can become better. “Burning your Martin Luthers makes you stagnant.” I believe that. For those that see the church, along with its leaders, as infallible and perfect, critics won’t be seen as helpful. But for those that realize the church isn’t perfect, and neither are its leaders, realize that those that speak out against certain practices are not only needed but extremely important.

For instance, there was a recent change to church policy where members that work with children are now required to take a brief training course on preventing abuse and what to do if it occurs. While I have concerns with the length and content of the training, it is definitely a step in the right direction. And this change, this improvement, would not have occurred without the efforts of Sam Young and the Protect LDS Children movement. The same Sam Young that was excommunicated for those efforts. Whether you agree with his approach or not, I believe it was due to the pressure he placed on the church that actually caused the change.

As I’ve already listed what I believe to be harmful about the church I will not rehash that now. But I will list what I wish members would do as a result of reading my blog.

1. For those that choose to stay because you fully believe: research. Not for the result of learning difficult information or to lose your faith but to learn accurate history. Read the Gospel Topics Essays on the official church website. Research the Fair Mormon website, which tries to answer the difficult questions that I have been talking about in a faith promoting way. Learn what it actually is that you believe. Reread my 16th post about the harmful aspects of the church and make a decision about any changes you want to make to protect not only yourself but your children. Live your religion, but be informed.

2. For those that choose to stay for the community and good teachings: choose what you follow. I have stated before that I find the current LDS version of tithing to be harmful. Rather than paying a full 10 percent, choose how much you pay. Or rather than pay tithing, pay a very generous fast offering, as these funds stay in the ward to help local members. If you have a problem with the church’s stance on the LGBTQ community, don’t subscribe to it. Accept everyone, don’t merely tolerate them. Attend every single interview in the church that your children have. If you want a drink ending in -ccino, have one. Watch Game of Thrones, it’s really good (except for the last season, don’t get me started…). Do what works for you.

3. For those that doubt or no longer believe and don’t know what to do: call me. Text, email, invite me to lunch, send me smoke signals for all I care. Don’t suffer through this alone. To beat a dead horse (or tapir, as it were) I honestly have no agenda for where you end up in your faith, but I will be an understanding ear and will help you figure it out.

Now on to my request. And when I make this appeal, I do it in complete seriousness. I hope that every active, believing member of the church that reads this article will publicly say that they will never shun, abandon, or leave a family member or friend that leaves the church. I want you to turn to your spouse, and if needed your adult or teenage children, your friends, really anyone that you believe may need to hear it, and say that no matter what their status with the church is, or what it may become in the future, that you will love them and stay with them regardless. My preference would be that this statement would be made public, whether on the blog itself, on my Facebook post, or even by making a Facebook (or other social media) post of your own, so that others will know you are a safe person to be open with if they were to ever doubt or stop believing. I personally know of several attending members that are either doubting or no longer believe. And they are terrified to tell their family and/or spouse. I know the feeling, so was I. Please. PLEASE. Do this thing for me. Or rather, do it for your loved ones.

To support this notion, I will quote the Bible, 1 Corinthians 7:12-13:

12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

And here is an article that was published on the church website:

Here is my favorite quote from the article: “To me, the Savior embodies what it is to practice perfect love. He loved when it was uncomfortable, not reciprocated, and even ridiculed. A simple yet powerful commandment He told His disciples, one that He repeated three times over, ‘Love one another; as I have loved you.’ I am so glad this commandment didn’t include disclaimers. Can you imagine, ‘Love one another, except when someone does not believe or act as you do, then please disregard this commandment?’ It sounds absurd when it’s in this context, but when life gets real and loved ones disagree on personal matters, this simple but powerful statement can get lost in translation.”

As this is my last post, I would personally love to hear from anyone and everyone that has read these articles. Tell me about your reaction, whether positive or negative. Whether it has changed your perspective one way or another or whether you have hated this blog and are convinced it is anti-Mormon, I am completely open to your perspective. Even if you have never been Mormon and have discovered a morbid fascination with my blog or Mormonism in general, I would appreciate your input!

I will end this post and my contribution to this blog with two quotes. One is from a past leader within the church and the other from one of the founding members of modern philosophy.

“We must give up this idea too many of us have, that our way of life and living is not only the best, but often the only true way of life and living in the world, that we know what everybody else in the world should do and how they should do it. We must come to realize that every race and every people have their own way of doing things, their own standards of life, their own ideals, their own kinds of food and clothing and drink, their own concepts of civil obligation and honor, in their own views as to the kind of government they should have. It is simply ludicrous for us to try to recast all of these into our mold.”
 – J. Reuben Clark, member of the First Presidency 1934-1961

“If you would be a real seeker after truth, you must at least once in your life doubt, as far as possible, all things.”
- Descartes

Monday, August 19, 2019

19. Scott’s Story – Maintaining Relationships with Loved Ones Who Choose to Stay

This post was written by another high school friend of mine, Scott Goates. Although he went to a different school than I did, we had many mutual friends. He has gone through his faith transition over the past 6 years, so has much more experience in the process than I do. But I hope you find his perspective interesting, as he shares this post specifically to those no longer believe but are trying to maintain relationships with their LDS family and friends. I hope it gives some insight into this aspect of our journey!

A little over 6 years ago I sat down with my wife and explained my concerns about my LDS faith. About 3 years ago I stopped attending church with any regularity. Today I no longer consider myself a believing Mormon. Like Dason and others who have shared their stories here, it has been a rocky journey, full of study, soul searching, and heartache. As I explained to my wife, after a lifetime spent in church meetings, serving in callings, and surrounding myself with fellow saints, I simply didn’t know how NOT to be Mormon.  

Perhaps my biggest fear going through my faith transition was how it would impact my relationships with loved ones who remained in the Church. Being raised in Southern Alberta in a strong LDS community, attending BYU, serving a mission, and being an active member all my life, most of my family and friends were Church members. Mormonism was a big part of who I was, and I didn't know how my LDS loved ones would react to my decision.

Naturally, reactions from my loved ones in the church varied; Some were defensive, some had the same concerns I had, some empathized but didn’t want to know details, and one immediately said she thought I was being deceived by Satan! I don’t judge any of them for their reactions -- relationships can be hard, and there are no “best practices” when dealing with a faith crisis. Recently, though, I came across two articles giving advice to Church members on how to treat loved ones who are going through a faith transition:

As one who left the Church, I found these articles positive and affirming. It is gratifying to see discussions like this happen in Church circles, and it shows that many members want to maintain healthy relationships with those who leave.

This post is written partially as a response to those member-directed articles.   In leaving the Church, I have worked hard to maintain healthy relationships with my loved ones who stay.  I have done some things right, and there are some things that I wish I had done differently.  This post shares what I have learned about Maintaining Relationships with Loved Ones Who Choose to Stay.

1. Do Not Define Yourself or Others by Relationship to the Church

When you leave the Church, it can feel like an all-encompassing experience. Your identity as “Mormon” is stripped away, with nothing to replace it. Many who leave identify as “Exmormon” or “Post-Mormon,” or “Apostate.” While this helps to identify individuals with similar experiences who can offer support, it is important to remember that this isn’t your only identity. You are still you! You still have the same likes and dislikes and a broad array of interests. Do not define yourself by your relationship to the Church.

Why is this important in maintaining relationships with those in the Church? If you define yourself only by the fact that you are exmormon, that is how others will define you (they may see you this way regardless, but that is their problem, not yours). Have you ever been stuck in a social situation with a person who is OBSESSED with only one thing? Maybe they only want to talk about their favorite sport, or their hobby, or their Church calling. You try to change the subject, but they just cannot move on. People who define themselves by only one thing are BORING, and it’s hard to maintain a relationship with them. Be more than an exmormon.

By the same token, do not define Church members by their relationship to the Church. Your loved ones are still your loved ones. Your reasons for loving them haven’t changed just because they have chosen to stay in the Church. Do not let the Church come between you.  

You may find, unfortunately, that some relationships you have were entirely based on the Church. It may be that, while you and Bro. Johnson got along great while planning the big summer activity, you don’t actually have anything in common outside of that. Or maybe your ministering Sister was a sympathetic ear, but she no longer comes around since you are no longer her assignment. Here you have the same choice that you have with any adult -- you can try to build a relationship, or you can move on.

2. Pick Your Battles

When I was going through my faith crisis, I wanted to share all the facts I found with loved ones. Partly because I wanted to know if I was interpreting information correctly, and partly in hopes that my loved ones would validate my conclusions. I also shared because of the uncertainty and fear of taking this journey alone, hoping that my loved ones would walk the hard road at my side. Often, however, my loved ones in the Church were not at all interested in knowing what I found. I was faced with the decision of when and how to discuss the issues that caused me to leave.

One of the things I often forget is that, even when everyone has access to the same information, not everyone sees the world in the same way. In the decision to leave the Church there are several competing values, such as loyalty, group cohesiveness, family, duty, family happiness, personal happiness, truth, etc. The difference between those who stay and those who leave may lie in how they prioritize these values. Although we may not know why our loved ones choose to stay in the Church, or even choose to remain uninformed about issues in the Church, we must respect their right to do so if we value our relationships.

I believe that as exmormons we have a responsibility to speak out against harmful doctrines and false information. If someone posts something untrue or damaging on social media, I have no problem publicly weighing-in. I consider that they have invited the conversation by their post. Personal, private conversations, however, require more discretion. While I am happy to discuss my beliefs with almost anyone, I try to consider the potential harm that might come from sharing unsolicited information with unprepared loved ones (admittedly, I struggle with this).

If someone tells me that they wouldn’t want to know if the Church isn’t true, I try to believe them. If someone tells me that there is nothing that would convince them that the Church isn’t true, I try to believe them. If someone tells me that even if the Church wasn’t true, it wouldn’t change anything for them, I try to believe them. I can see very little to be gained from sharing my reasons for leaving with those who do not truly want to understand, and who aren’t ready or willing to act on that knowledge.

If loved ones in the Church want to understand why you left, of course you should discuss your reasons, but only what you are comfortable discussing. You do not need to defend your decision to them, and you do not need them to agree with you.

3. Set Boundaries

As someone who has now spent a fair bit of time in the “Exmo” community, I think this topic is one of the most important. It is not uncommon in the same day to see a post from a former Mormon describing how hurt she was not to be invited to her niece’s baptism and just a few posts further down seeing another former Mormon hurt because her family invited her to sit in the temple waiting room while a cousin was sealed. Fair or not, as the person who has made a change, it is up to you to decide how you would like to be included in religious activities and then to clearly communicate those preferences. Our loved ones in the Church are not mind readers.  

Honestly, this is something that I’m still figuring out. I’ve leaned towards the side of wanting to be invited to most events (though Temple trips, obviously, are out). If I want to go, I go. If I don’t want to go, I say thank you for the invitation and I decline. My loved ones, thus far, have been understanding and I have never felt pressured into doing something that I didn’t want to do. I feel very fortunate in this, as I know from reading stories from other exmormons that this isn’t always the case.  

4. Find Support

Going through my faith crisis, I wanted friends who could empathize with my anger, frustration, sadness, etc. with the Church. However, many of my LDS friends were simply not able to provide that empathy. It was tempting to be frustrated with them, but I realized that their inability to empathize was not a reflection on me or our friendship. They were just in a different place. Fortunately, I found communities of support, including online communities, who were able to empathize with my faith journey (if you’re interested, you can contact Dason for more information).

You are not responsible for how others feel about you leaving the Church, and you do not need their permission. However, you should realize that your loved ones need empathy as well, which you might not be able to provide. My wife is still a believing member, and as you can imagine my faith journey has been difficult on her. She has found support in a FB group called Believing Mormons with Doubting Spouses. Because I love my wife, I am glad that she has found people who can better empathize with her feelings about my leaving.

5. Be Gracious

Being gracious means, primarily, that we assume the best intentions in others. While it is possible that your mother-in-law meant to shame you by offering you a sweater to cover your porn shoulders (gasp!), she may have just thought you were cold. Don’t look for opportunities to be offended.

Being gracious also means that you make a reasonable effort to make others comfortable. I recently attended my 20-year High School reunion. It was held in a pub in Lethbridge, and there were quite a few of my friends, both Mormon and non-Mormon. In a social situation like that, if I was among coworkers or non-Mormons, I would usually order an alcoholic drink.  However, I had some good LDS friends there who, although they may know of my disaffection, have only ever known me as a sober Mormon boy. I decided not to drink. This is not because I am ashamed that I left the Church, but it is a way of showing respect for my LDS friends and helping them feel comfortable. I didn’t want my drinking to be a distraction to them in what was an enjoyable night. This is the same respect I would try to show anybody. If I was dining with orthodox Jews, I would avoid ordering pork -- my LDS loved ones deserve the same respect.

This same principle can be applied to other social situations such as attire when attending Church functions, or selecting topics of conversation during gatherings. If you have questions about what would make your friends uncomfortable, it may be okay to ask them.


Leaving the Church is hard, and many things change in our lives. Ironically, the time when we most need the support of our loved ones is the time that those relationships feel most at risk. Looking back after six years, I can happily say that most of my relationships with loved ones are still intact -- both in and out of the Church. Things aren’t perfect. I’m sure that there are things that my loved ones in Church would like to say to me about my leaving, and there are certainly things that I wish I could share with them. And one day, maybe when I’ve been out of the Church much longer, we will have those conversations. For now, however, I will do my best to not let my relationship with the Church (past or present), define my relationship with people. I will prioritize individuals over indoctrination, and hope that they will do the same with me.

Monday, August 12, 2019

18. Ryan's Story Part 2 - Hoped For Change from a Currently Attending Non-Believer

Part 2

Let’s get something out of the way. Am I a critic of the church?  Yes. I’m a big Calgary Flames fan, I also yell at the TV when they aren’t playing well. The Office is one of my all-time favorite TV shows. Seasons 6 and 7 were terrible, I wanted them to be better, I criticized them. And their influence on people is trivial next to a high-demand church. Critics are friends, they’re the best kinds of friends. Burning your Martin Luthers makes you stagnant. Onward and upward.

Here are some of my thoughts on what I’d like to see.


In the earliest days of Christianity, as power was consolidated by competing churches, churches needed to evoke authority and legitimacy. Even today many European churches display the body parts of deceased saints, pieces of the ark or the cross, or any other relic that would have given them legitimacy as a seat of power. Various means of expressing authority remained important, and legitimacy and authority persisted as important concepts in the settling of the New World.

The Mormon church arose in a time where the American frontier was expanding faster than established, institutional churches could expand their infrastructure. As various branches competed for adherents, authority was an important component for winning the hearts, minds and spirits of the “unchurched” Americans. For Protestants the Bible was the ultimate authority, for Catholics authority sat with ordained leaders, for others it came directly from God. Puritans believed in personal revelation, visions, dreams, folk magic, and other means of communicating with God. Ordained authorities were less important, and the Bible was only one avenue for spiritual knowledge.

Mormonism for its part embraced all of these forms of authority. It had “the most correct book,” translated by a man who had been ordained by God. Yet members were free to explore their own personal revelation and lay members were given the Priesthood. I believe this democratization of religion was the most exciting part of Mormonism in its early days.

Symbols and institutions of authority remain as important as ever in the mainstream church today. The Book of Mormon is still taught as a literal translation from the Gold Plates, Mormonism’s earliest and most important relic. The Priesthood is taught as something that must be conferred, given to the modern church by John the Baptist, with the higher Priesthood being conferred to Joseph Smith by Peter, James and John. Under this model, the church is “true” (or at least legitimate) because of its roots, less so than by its fruits. Adjusting to contemporary social issues is difficult and orthodox interpretations of things like the Book of Mormon are necessary. Mormonism has its own treasury full of figurative relics. It is the one true church, with the roots more important than the fruits.

As a useful contrast, I’d like to offer an experience I had last year. As a fan of architecture, I’d always wanted to visit St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Christopher Wren’s most important work, the cathedral was built after the London fire of 1666 destroyed much of the city. Today it is an important cathedral for the Anglican church. It is breathtaking, one of Europe’s greatest cathedrals, yet it is a fairly modern construction as European cathedrals go. To someone of a Mormon background however, the roots of the Anglican church itself would seem unimpressive. A king breaking from the Catholic church over a divorce, no divine visitations, no translations from ancient works or conferral of Priesthood keys.

The history of the Church of England is also violent. Anglicans were at times the recipients of violence at the hands of Catholic monarchs but were just as often the aggressors. Protestant kings and queens made martyrs of more than a few Catholics. It seems to pale next to a “restoration of the one true church”. Yet visiting St Paul’s was for me a profoundly spiritual experience. The Anglican church has a robust progressive branch, extending leadership roles to women and gay members. They have recently encouraged providing religious ceremonies for transgender members using their chosen name. It’s not perfect, the battle continues between progressive and conservative factions. But progressive Christians have a real seat at the table. The roots aren’t very good, but the fruits feel firmly in the spirit of Christianity. I felt a profound peace walking through St Paul’s, I believe doing good and drawing a bigger circle means more than stories of centuries-old visitations and other foundational mythology.


I won’t spill much ink here because it gets so much discussion already. A church can’t possibly hope to be true, or even good, if its benefits aren’t available to everyone. We don’t get the spiritual benefits, the social benefits, or intellectual benefits from a flavourless, exclusive community. As long as we exclude and shun people who don’t think the same or love the same, we are missing crucial members of our tribe, and we are profoundly hurting people. These are the very people who would do the most to make us better as individuals and as an institution. We need to accept LGBTQ members and recognize that you can’t separate people from their relationships, attractions, intimacy etc. Imagine being welcomed into a community, but being told your significant other can’t come with you, that your partnership isn’t valid. Maybe the relationship is new and exciting, maybe it’s a spouse you’ve built a home and raised a family with. Would you feel loved? Like you had any part in God’s plan? I don’t pretend to speak for our LGBTQ members, there is no “correct” way to feel, but to me it feels like the church only offers counterfeit love to these individuals. Or maybe so-called love.

If you want to call my experience at St Paul’s the Holy Ghost, I think the Holy Ghost goes where it is welcomed. I think when you welcome people, you welcome the Holy Ghost. Bigger circles bring us closer to God.


We have a real problem with taking our own most ardent researchers, and instead of dealing with the difficult challenges the data presents, shooting the messengers. Excommunicating a popular podcaster or trained historian doesn’t make the problem go away, and it’s not defending the faith. It is friendly fire.

Looking at the current level of disaffection I often joke that we’re up crap creek and we’re excommunicating all of our paddles. John Dehlin, Kate Kelly, Bill Reel, Michael Quinn and many others were never “anti-Mormon”, they are the paddles. They might not have been your flavor, but you might find you need them one day. These were my paddles. They were being intellectually and emotionally honest, and we punished them for it. John Hamer is one of my favorite people, he was LDS, it wasn’t the most welcoming environment, now he’s one of the Community of Christ’s greatest assets. Man would I love to have John Hamer helping us write curriculum. Keep the paddles.

If you don’t look a little bit like a radical in a conservative, exclusive institution, are you really being like Jesus?


Literalism is a powder keg to a faith crisis. It’s the ball and chain that tethers us to the darkest beliefs and practices of Mormonism and broader Christianity. I don’t think kids need to stop hearing people affirm their belief in a literal Book of Mormon translated from gold plates, or that we should forbid anyone from proclaiming their belief that animals lined up two by two so God could drown everyone. I want them to also hear from a few people in the ward who think Joseph was writing fan-fiction and who are skeptical of the idea that two penguins waddled back home from Turkey.  Call it heterodoxy or plurality or whatever, black and white literalism is still the default position from the pulpit. Alternate views are met with suspicion and this is not working well.

Humanization vs Hagiography

Hagiography is the kind of history that whitewashes our forebearers and elevates them to mythical greatness. Today we often write “warts and all” history about people. We don’t mind telling their dirty secrets. In the past we wrote about a person’s greatest accomplishments and hid their faults. We wanted heroes, not real people. It’s the literary equivalent of erecting a statue. Many of the people enshrined in hagiography did terrible things. All of them were flawed. Writing hagiography makes weakness seem unacceptable, while paradoxically excusing atrocities. We say that leaders make mistakes. We don’t hear what those mistakes are, and we’re left to assume they might have double-dipped once, or left the lid off the fry sauce.

This leads to a culture of “great men” (it’s pretty patriarchal), where national and religious mythology become instrumental in your own belief system and development of self. Your religious and national identities are likely inseparable from some of these larger-than-life figures. “Great men” have faults, but they’re small, endearing faults. We get stories in Mormonism about men who couldn’t throw a baseball or had poor penmanship. Cutting much deeper than that is traumatic to our identity. Men we have never met are so elemental to our sense of self and our belief system it is painful to consider they could commit anything more than mistakes, or that their mistakes could have dire consequences.

The Mormon identity is so dependent on mythologized men it doesn’t have the capacity to deal with fraud, or the full implications of polygamy. It doesn’t quite know how to process a Mountain Meadows Massacre, the Nov 5 exclusion policy, or a sexual predator for an MTC president. I believe as a community we would survive unflinching honesty about our “great men.”

Real people are easier to love and relate to. You’ve battled alcohol addiction? So did some of the whitewashed heroes of Mormonism. Going through a difficult divorce from an abusive but respected husband? Maybe hearing about someone who’s been in your spot isn’t the worst thing in the world. Maybe you blew all of the money in the savings account, or told the neighbors you had a gold bible when you didn’t (too far?). Give me the messy, occasionally appalling history. Where there’s abuse, call it abuse. Where there’s fraud, call it fraud. Hagiography gives us the heroes we want, and robs us of the heroes we deserve. You are not responsible for the actions of Joseph Smith or Brigham Young. Your spirituality should be independent, but a culture of “Great Men’ made you wrap up your identity and spirituality in theirs.

Between literalism and hagiography, we are neck keep in mythology in the church, and it may be making us miserable. You’re not perfect because there’s no such thing, and you don’t have to know the church is true because the concept doesn’t make any sense. You’re comparing yourself to statues and constantly falling short.

I’ve got a lot of issues with Brigham Young. You’ve got a lot of issues with Brigham Young. It’s okay, you can say it out loud. Didn’t that feel good?

We have messy and sometimes ugly roots. It’s okay. We can’t control the roots, but we have considerable say over the fruits.

Today I’m at a point where I can’t confidently speak of gold plates or translated papyri. That’s not my personal weakness, it’s where the data leads me. Historically, the word “priesthood” just meant your vocation was that of a priest. I think we can continue in the spirit of the priesthood, not as a conferred power that gives us exclusive rights to ordinances, but as a commitment to act in pastoral ways. In willingness to constantly take inventory of one’s own growth, to care for the people in your stewardship, to love and serve your family, and to seek God in whatever manner works for you (none of these activities is inherently “male”).

My goal isn’t to lead people out of the church, I want to see Mormonism at its best. Where it’s honest, vulnerable, and forward thinking. One where the array of speakers at General Conference looks like a representative sample of the rich variety of people on this earth. One where, when God keeps sending more and more gay spirits, we take the hint and grow the tent. Some of my favorite people don’t think there is a God, or spirits. Some of them are deeply engaged in Mormonism in one way or another, and I’m confident what they would offer from a pulpit would blow high council Sunday out of the water. In big tent Mormonism you get to meet and learn from people whose experience is vastly different from your own. That’s exciting.

In short, I want a church that is radical and bold in being protecting and welcoming. What if instead of holding up Jesus as a symbol of perfection and obedience to authority, we held him up as a radical defender of the marginalized? What if instead of protecting our foundational stories, we doggedly protected our people. What then would we call “anti-mormon”? What would our critics then look like?

To finish I’d like to quote Mormon apostle Carol Lynn Pearson (yes, she’s an apostle, fight me). “Along with so many other women and men of all cultures, nations, and religions, I have a calling to help the human family cross the plains of Patriarchy and enter the land of Partnership. This pioneering work I was born to. It was written in my bones and rattled around in my head before I even had words.”

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

17. Ryan's Story Part 1 - Journey to Disbelief from a Currently Attending Non-Believer

*Dason's obligatory preamble: This post is written by Ryan Peters, a close friend of mine from high school. Throughout my process of questioning and falling out of belief in the church, having a friend that was open enough about their issues with the church so that I felt comfortable to reach out really helped me on my journey. This is one reason why I am open about where I am now, to help those that are currently in the position I was two years ago. When I doubted and didn't know where to turn, Ryan was that friend that I could talk to.

Part 1

To start, it’s important to understand that I was a believer. I believed enough to go to seminary every morning, to read the Book of Mormon almost daily, I served a mission and married in the temple. I did all of the things I was supposed to do because I believed.

As I experienced it, there are two requirements of Mormonism that supersede all else. The first was the pressure to be pure. To Choose the Right is to have the Spirit. To fall short is to be sad, to lose the comforting influence of the Holy Ghost, and to maybe have an embarrassing conversation about sex with whichever plumber or accountant was currently called by God to ask people in your ward who they had touched and where.

The second great requirement of Mormonism was to have a testimony. To KNOW that this church was right and all the others wrong. You might not know yet, but older people in your ward did, and one day you would have to as well.

In the end, failure on either of these two requirements could result in separation from your family. Mormonism doesn’t really have a hell, at least not a very traditional one. It has lesser kingdoms, which are still beautiful, but where you aren’t with your family. Families CAN be together forever. Teach me ALL THAT I MUST DO to live with him someday. Nearly every song and lesson carries the implicit warning that you might not make it, or even that your future wife and kids might be given to another because you couldn’t cut it. Or if you make it you’ll be there without your more rebellious family members.

I believed enough to have the occasional panic attack at the thought of the Second Coming, believing I possibly wasn’t good enough to make it. I believed enough that when cracks formed in my belief of the Book of Mormon, it affected my health. I was a full-time missionary and zone leader, as fully invested in the church as I could possibly be, separated from friends and family. I knew the Book of Mormon intimately, and had read many times a particular passage where Nephi laments “O wretched man that I am”. Nephi, we are to believe, lived in the 6th century BC. Because missionaries are taught to preference the Book of Mormon over the Bible, I had only a superficial understanding of the Bible. But when I finally got around to digging in to the New Testament, there was Paul proclaiming “O wretched man that I am”. That phrase made everything grind to a halt. Nephi had sailed to the New World around 600 BC. Why was Nephi quoting a man who wouldn’t live for hundreds of years? It didn’t stop there, I found the Book of Mormon full of direct quotes from the New Testament, a book ostensibly written hundreds of years after Nephi.  The thought of it being written by Joseph Smith, and not translated from plates, was a terrifying proposition.

I read Lectures on Faith, where the brethren are taught that there are two members of the Godhead, God and Jesus, Jesus with a physical body, God a spirit. This was written several years before Joseph’s proclamation that there are three members of the Godhead, and that God is a man, with a body of flesh and bones. Joseph had said that knowing the true nature of God was essential to worshiping him, why did the early church keep changing the true nature of God?

Cracks started to form, but to tell anyone felt like blasphemy. To be half a continent from my family, committed to completing an honorable full-time mission, this kind of realization was devastating. I lost weight and sleep as I limped through the final months of my mission. It’s hard to overstate the physical, mental, and spiritual toll a faith crisis has on a missionary.

I enrolled in University, adding as many archaeology classes into my schedule as I could manage, devouring FARMS reviews (now the Maxwell Institute, at the time dedicated to archaeological and academic work trying to support the veracity of the Book of Mormon). But the more I studied the Book of Mormon, the more I saw the world of Joseph Smith in it, and the less I could justify it as an ancient record. The language, the technology, the agriculture, everything about it pointed to religion and culture of 1800’s New England. I wanted more than anything to believe that it had come from ancient American prophets, but on one issue after another Mormonism seemed to fit a 19th century context, not an ancient one.

I had devoted my life to the church, and my inability to mentally make the Book of Mormon work as an ancient text shattered my worldview and my security. What was worse, I discovered that I was far from the first to have this realization. BH Roberts had written an internal report in the early 20th century detailing the similarities between the Book of Mormon and other books available to Joseph Smith. Other books predating the Book of Mormon had speculated about branches of Israel sailing to the Americas, building cities and splitting into wicked and righteous factions.

In archaeology I learned that pre-Columbian Americans had grown crops like corn, beans squash, wild rice, they had relied on animals like bison in the north, llamas in the south. There was no wheat, no cows or pigs or horses. This was all known long before I had been sent to seminary and institute to bolster my belief that the Book of Mormon was translated from ancient plates.

No one had ever brought up the serious doubts about the origins on the Book of Mormon, it was a trap I had to fall into alone, miles from home, and afraid to mention to anyone my suspicions. It’s hard to overstate the mental anguish many church members suffer when their belief is shattered. I’m sympathetic to the believers who would be hurt by going through the same process I did, but it’s crucial that we stop setting the next generation of kids up for their own painful realizations.

The church at the highest levels seemed to have questions about the historicity of the Book of Mormon, why did they let me leave home without telling me? How can we continue to send kids out without telling them? The missionary program is recognizing how prevalent mental health issues are among missionaries, they’re allowing more exercise, and more calls home, but without honesty about our founders and founding documents they face an impossible uphill battle.

Every member faces the prospect of a difficult and deeply painful reckoning with the difficult history of the church, the path with the least damage and pain is to do it at an institutional level, where we can guide each other through as a community.

The pathway to spirituality in the church runs right through several “checkpoints” of authority. You get a good feeling, find out the Book of Mormon is true, which tells you Joseph Smith is a prophet, which tells you the brethren are God’s chosen mouthpieces, and you are part of the only true church. What happens when you come to question the Book of Mormon? Or Joseph Smith? Your pathway to spiritual wellness is shattered, you might become a pariah in a culture that subscribes to the one true path. You lose faith in any one of those checkpoints and you’re in danger of losing your entire tribe. 

When you lose belief, you quickly learn that testimony, your belief in the foundational mythology, and in the top leadership as literal prophets, is at the core of participation in Mormonism. To speak in church presupposes this belief, speakers are expected to affirm belief and bear testimony. Teachers are expected to affirm literal belief and bear testimony. Status and attendance at church schools has traditionally required belief. To lose one’s testimony can threaten one’s academic career. Temple attendance requires a belief in the foundational claims, and in the leaders as prophets, seers and revelators. This means attending family weddings is often only available to those who believe. We are literally separating families based on things as intimate as thoughts and beliefs.

Even church discipline presupposes belief. In a “court of love”, the defendant is expected to work their way back into good standing. The process in most cases intends for the disciplined individual to rectify their behavior, and in humility seek reinstatement. This humility hinges on a belief in Priesthood authority. Absent testimony the process is little more than an expulsion.

When callings, ceremonies, talks, weddings, university degrees, in many cases social acceptance, are dependent on testimony, to lose testimony is an instant demotion to second class status.

As long as testimony is the central litmus of worthiness, loss of belief is catastrophic.

What if we just focused on finding moments of peace, or inspiration however we can find them? If the Book of Mormon helps you have that experience, great! If you don’t connect with the Book of Mormon? Who cares! You can still search inside the community. The choir inspires you and the General Conference talks don’t? You’re on equal footing with everyone else in the pews. You’re not overlooked for callings because you can’t proclaim with certainty that Joseph Smith was a prophet. You’re worthy to serve just because you’re willing and you show up.

Moments of peace, of inspiration, camaraderie, and growth are at the core of the religious experience. Scripture, prayer, music, the people in pastoral roles are tools to help you get there. Lose belief in the Book of Abraham? It’s a speedbump and not a wall.

I’ll reiterate that the membership is full of wonderful people, there are winds of change at all levels. I don’t see the leadership as uncaring, there is slow creaking change. But testimony can’t be a prerequisite for full standing and participation in the church. Currently it still is and we’re losing many of our best and brightest because of it.

As difficult as the process was for me, there is so much benefit to membership in the church community I would like to see something healthier emerge. Pushing questionable foundation mythology hurts people. I don’t feel the same way about youth programs, dances, home teaching, family home evening, casseroles, the Relief Society, funeral potatoes, and a long list of aspects of the church that I think are great. In part two I hope to offer a vision of what I would like to see.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

16. What I Believe is Harmful

So, I’ve been procrastinating writing this one for more than a month and I’m not exactly sure why. It could be because this is another article that may be difficult for members of the church to read. I have stated before (during my 6th, 7th, and 8th posts where I discuss my specific issues with the truth claims of the church) how I don’t enjoy writing about things that members of the church may see as antagonistic. I might have procrastinated because I am not quite ready to be done with these blogs, considering I only have one post left to write after this one. Or it might be because I AM ready to move on and I just want to be done with writing. I’m not exactly sure. But I have finally buckled down to write this second to last post so I can move forward with my own journey feeling like my blog is complete and I’ve shared what I needed to. And it’s a long one, so I apologize in advance, but I really don’t want to split this up. I want to be done.

My last post, or Kate’s post rather, has been read more times than my previous two combined (as of this writing). It just reached the top six viewed posts the other day, even though it’s a new post. I have joked with friends that it was probably because I didn’t include Kate’s name in my Facebook post, so people had to at least open the blog to find out who they might know that also left the church. But I wonder if maybe it’s because church members are interested to hear if my experience is not as unique as they had thought. Maybe there are legitimate concerns with the history of the church that have led to an exodus of faithful families leaving the church over the past 5-10 years. I am being completely honest when I say that I personally know between one and two dozen people from my past that have left the church specifically due to discovering problems within church history. New members to a local online Facebook support group for those that no longer believe in the church often have numerous friends in common with me. I think many believing members would be surprised at who else has left the church or who still attends but no longer believes. To reiterate, I don’t write these things to try to convince you I am right and believing members are wrong. I write to show that I am not an anomaly. We are not weak, deceived, or led astray.  I, and those like me, have concerns that are legitimate.

But on to the current post. I will be listing aspects of the church that I believe are harmful. These issues may impact you or your family at some point. Now whether members justify these things by saying that other churches have these issues also, or that these things might happen but they won’t happen to them or any other justification, I hope that those that remain in the church will think about these things and keep them in mind for the future, just in case.

1.       Unquestioning Obedience to Leaders

Members of the church believe that the leaders of the church, specifically the president, his two counsellors, and the 12 apostles are “prophets, seers, and revelators” for the world. Members believe they have been called essentially by God himself and whatever they say is God’s will. The expectation is that members of the church follow and believe everything they teach. But again, we know that these men can be wrong. They have been wrong in the past and the church (in the Gospel Topics Essays) has specifically disavowed things past leaders have taught. There is nothing stopping them from being wrong again, or even from being wrong in what they are teaching now. So, while they may be doing what they think is right, they can teach us things that are incorrect. And as I have discussed in my 8th post, I do not believe in the gift of discernment, which is what the church says is used when calling local leadership. So, to follow these men, whether global or local leadership, in EVERYTHING they suggest is, to me, harmful. I will discuss some of these things in later points but this one is an overarching concern of mine.

I have heard that we can still question what the leaders of the church say, but in the end, if we get any answer, whether by study or prayer, that is different than what the leaders have told us, it is automatically wrong. I wish more would choose what they believe rather than feeling forced to believe.

There are many ways for people to live their life. Even within the LDS church, members choose to follow certain commandments while not following others. Some choose to watch R rated movies or TV shows that are rated M. Some choose to drink certain teas, such as green tea or iced tea, which are against the Word of Wisdom. Some members of the church swear. Others only wear their garments occasionally rather than day and night as instructed in the temple interview. All of these things have been specifically denounced by the leaders of the church, but some members choose to do them anyway. I do not list these things in order to judge. I would actually prefer members of the church to live their lives according to what works for them. But the guilt and shame that can be created by going against the teachings of the church are harmful in and of themselves.

So, I wish members would choose for themselves what they believe and what they will follow. Use critical thinking and scientific research as well as follow your own conscience.

2.       Tithing

I understand the idea behind tithing. I get the principle. But if I am correct, and this church is just one of many churches professing to be the correct way, it is no different than the faith healers or televangelists asking for money, except we are required to give a substantial portion of our income to be considered in full fellowship. The personal bankruptcy rate in Utah, which is a Mormon majority state, is ninth in America. This means that 82% of the other states in the US have lower bankruptcy rates, even with a very large percentage of people in Utah paying tithing. I know of many families that struggle financially even though they pay tithing.

When an affluent, white, American man goes to Africa and tells the people that the way they break the cycle of poverty is to pay ten percent of their meagre income to the church, that is the definition of harmful. Ellipses were used in church manuals to remove a portion of the original wording of the revelation on tithing, removing the part that says that tithing is only to be paid if members have the means to do so. When leaders of the church teach members to pay your tithing even if you can’t pay for food, rent, medicine, or anything else you need, that is harmful. Paying tithing does not supernaturally prevent members from having serious financial struggles. And depending on local leadership, the church is not always willing to help when members are struggling.

I find it harmful that the church is not transparent about its finances. When asked about this in a TV interview, Gordon B. Hinckley, a past president of the church, lied and said that the reason the church is not financially transparent is because only members of the church should know where the money is spent. I have never been told where to find this information on the church website. I have never heard of anyone that knows where to look this up. If the church has nothing to hide, why not be transparent with how much they have and where the money is spent?

I wish members would either pay on the original teaching about tithing, their increase (paying 10% of what is left over after first paying all bill payments) or only paying tithing when they are able and only as much as they feel good about paying. Please don’t pay tithing if you can’t afford food or bills.

3.       Discrimination

The church has a history, as well as the current practice, of marginalizing certain groups. I believe in loving and embracing all people regardless of their religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation. Whether you are Muslim, Jewish, Christian or Hindu; Black, White, Hispanic, or Asian; male, female, trans or intersex; gay, straight, bisexual, or otherwise; YOU HAVE EQUAL VALUE. PERIOD. The LDS church’s history of discrimination, both in the past and present, is not a sign of a true church. Either black skin is a curse or the church leaders were wrong. Either the Catholic church and all other non-LDS churches were the great and abominable church or the church leaders were wrong. Either women are to submit to their husbands or the church leaders were wrong. Either people that are gay are choosing to be gay or church leaders were wrong. The teachings of the leaders of the church have been found to be wrong over and over again.

The church will continue to be shown to be wrong on issues of discrimination. People that are gay or trans are amazing, caring, moral people. I have spent significant amounts of time hearing their stories and learning about their character. I find it horrific that the church teaches that their inborn desires to be who they are are considered part of Satan’s plan. Suicide within the gay community is higher in Utah than in other states where coming out is more supported. Youth who feel highly rejected by family members or their community when they come out as being LGBT have a risk of suicide that is eight times higher. The church’s stance on this issue is literally killing people. If your child was gay, what would you teach them?

In this area, I absolutely guarantee, the church will change its stance in the future. They have already changed their position on homosexuality being a choice (it has been scientifically proven that it’s not). The church has changed its definition of sin away from being gay without acting on it to only homosexual intimate relations being a sin. Whether it is in five years, a decade, or more, the church will one day allow people that are gay all the rights and privileges of every other member of the church, just as it did with black people. On this topic, the church is wrong, and it’s directly harming people.

4.       Role of Women

Discouraging women from education, careers, and generally being anything other than a stay-at-home-mom is harmful. I believe that women can be successful outside the home in their careers as well as successful in their homes. I will teach my girls that it is important to get an education and to have a career. This creates options for their future. I want them to be independent, strong, and self sufficient. Not all marriages last and I want my girls to be able to have options if things don’t work out with their partner. I never want them to feel trapped in a relationship. Women should not feel like their role is foreordained to stay at home and raise children. If this is what they choose to do, that is their choice, but having options to live their best life is powerful.

Women will likely be given more responsibilities in the future as the church continues to focus on improving their past stance, such as with the recent changes to the temple endowment. Women will likely be able to do things in the church that they had not been permitted to do recently. In the past, women were permitted to give blessings of healing and this may occur again. There’s nothing doctrinally against a woman holding her baby during baby blessings. And I have heard rumors that young girls in smaller congregations may be permitted to pass the sacrament. I hope this continues within the church until women are permitted to be bishops (and in other leadership positions) and hold the priesthood.

I wish parents would encourage their daughters to get an education or other career training before starting a family. I hope that those women that desire to or who have chosen to work outside the home will not feel guilt or shame.

5.       Potential for Abuse

Returning to the idea of discernment, the church teaches that local leaders are called by the Holy Spirit, by another leaders’ discernment of their character, and that these local leaders can be trusted completely. Yet we know that bishops, mission presidents, etc. have done terrible things in the recent past. The church does not require criminal background checks or vulnerable sector checks for members that work with children. This is extremely harmful. Will this catch all predatory behaviour? No, it won’t, but it will definitely help.

The church encourages and requires one-on-one interviews to occur between middle aged men and young boys and girls regarding, among other things, their sexual practices. A survey was recently sent out to members of the church asking if they believe children as young as 7 should have worthiness interviews on a regular basis. Currently, children as young as 11 are required to have regular interviews. In these interviews, youth are asked questions about their observance of the Law of Chastity. Questions can include masturbatory practices, viewing of pornography, and any other sexual contact. Again, I am not saying that all bishops or local leaders are predators waiting to victimize youth, but some are. Local leaders receive almost no training, which increases the chances of both innocent mistakes when providing counselling but also predatory interviewing. Inappropriate interviews are much more common than members realize. And it sets up the expectation that it is normal for youth to have discussions about sexual topics with older men. You can read hundreds of stories of abuse by leaders in the church here:

I find it difficult to fathom why the church would require two leaders to be present when dealing with money/tithing but only one leader is required when discussing sexual issues with youth. There should never be a time when a child is alone with a leader. The church has made it optional for children to request a parent be in the interview with them but this places the onus on the child. It should be a requirement that a parent must be present during any and all interviews. I would take this one step further and say that children should never be asked any sexual questions by a church leader, ever. The implicit idea that a child may be “unworthy” is extremely harmful.

When there is abuse, the church tends to rally around abusers and the focus is often on maintaining the “good name of the church” as more important than helping survivors. The church has had documents leaked about sexual abuse settlement payments that often amount to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Tithing dollars. Survivors that are paid out are often made to sign a non-disclosure agreement. When a Bishop (leader of a congregation of several hundred members) is given evidence of sexual abuse within the church, they are advised to call a hotline. The number is not to the police or social services. The number is to the church’s lawyers, Kirton McConkie. The church has been accused of covering up or otherwise not reporting several higher profile abuse cases, as well as many local cases, by way of bishops consulting with lawyers to determine whether they absolutely have to report abuse or not. Because there is very little formal training of local leadership, bishops have often been found to try to help the abuser repent rather than involving the police. Survivors have been told that they need to forgive and forget while their abuser remains in their congregation while they “repent,” which greatly increases the chances of revictimization as well as further abuse of others.

A past Missionary Training Center president named Joseph Bishop recently admitted to showing pornography to and fondling at least two sister missionaries while president of the MTC in the 80’s. He was accused of rape but this charge was found to be spurious. He was not excommunicated and was allowed to keep his position as MTC president after the church learned of his abuse. Also, the individual that created the videos shown in the temple, Stirling Van Wagenen, was also recently convicted of sexually abusing at least two children. Even though the abuse was reported to the church many years ago, this man was not excommunicated but went on to work as a Brigham Young University professor and to produce many videos for the church. Rather than their abuse being ignored, these men should have been excommunicated and charged and it should have been the church that pushed for this to happen. But the church did not report these abusers, it did not excommunicate them, and it allowed them to either keep their callings or promoted them to positions of higher influence in the church.

I would hope that parents make the decision to never allow their child to be interviewed alone by a leader of the church. Even if you have no concerns whatsoever with your bishop, it sets a negative precedent. Parents should let their bishop know that it is required for them to be present whenever their child is meeting with a leader for any reason. Those that find themselves in a leadership calling where they are required to perform worthiness interviews should not ask about sexual questions at all. But as I know this will likely not happen until the top leaders of the church make these changes themselves, leaders should only ask the vaguest of questions, namely: Do you keep the Law of Chastity, and leave it at that. No further probing questions beyond that. Abuse should be reported to police EVERY TIME, regardless of what the church’s lawyers advise. Survivors should be supported while abusers should be prosecuted. EVERY. TIME.

6.       Shaming Culture

Whether we are talking about sexual repression, the clothes one wears, the number or placement of piercings, or tattoos, people should be allowed to do what they want with their body. When it comes to these topics, I believe that it is the shaming and judgement from the church and its members that is harmful. I do believe there should be boundaries in what someone chooses to wear or the tattoos they choose to have, but if someone feels comfortable and beautiful, that is what is truly important. IT IS NOT THE JOB OF WOMEN TO PREVENT MEN FROM ABUSING THEM. To give the idea that women should not dress in a certain way or it’s their own fault if they are assaulted is victim blaming to its worst degree. Just because someone wears a tank top does not give anyone the right to assault her or to judge her. Saying that someone may have to accept a certain degree of responsibility if they are raped (which has been stated over the pulpit at General Conference by an apostle of the church) is horrible. Everyone is responsible for their own actions. People are not responsible for the actions of others. I find it interesting that Jesus taught that if thine eye offends thee, pluck it out. Yet this is definitely not taught in the church. Instead, the church places the onus on women.

Shame is also another result of a culture that teaches that we are constantly sinning. We sin if our thoughts are impure. We sin if we don’t read scriptures or pray enough. We sin if we don’t fulfill our callings or do our ministering. Shame can become a constant companion for some who don’t believe they are worthy. The belief is often created that we are never quite good enough. And fear is another common result when members doubt that they will make it to heaven. I have heard of members that were terrified as children and youth that they would be separated from their families in the afterlife due to their thoughts or actions.

The suicide rate for Utah is fifth highest in the U.S. The youth suicide rate is also fifth, but is double the average national rate. Utah consistently has one of the highest rates of mental illness and antidepressant use in the country. Shame and perfectionism are likely major factors in these statistics. The need for perfectionism, shame when one does not match this standard, and fear of never being good enough has to stop.

7.       Separating Families

The church promotes itself as a family centred church, and in many regards, I agree that it is. But in certain situations, the church actually encourages or supports the separation of families. Typically, this occurs with someone in my situation, someone that no longer believes or no longer attends church. According to church doctrine, due to my unbelief, regardless of how good of a person I am, I will be separated from my family in the afterlife. They will go to a higher degree of glory than myself and I will not be with them. This idea of “sad heaven,” namely being separated from your family in the afterlife if they don’t believe and act exactly as they are told to, is horrible.

If you are not a member of the church, or if you no longer believe, you cannot be present for a friend or family members wedding if it is occurring in the temple. There has been a recent change where couples can choose to be married civilly and then be sealed in the temple soon after, but I wonder if there will continue to be stigma for those that choose to first be married outside the temple. If you do not fit the mold of being a clean-cut conservative individual, you will not fit in with your ward family. Time in callings is another situation that keeps members of the church away from their family. The practice of excommunicating members (intellectuals, dissenters, liberals, etc), particularly those that would wish to remain a part of the church, drives a wedge between these people and their families. I believe I have discussed the Strengthening Church Members Committee in the past but I find it harmful that a group within the church exists with the sole purpose of monitoring church members online posts for dissenting opinions, with the ultimate threat being church discipline or excommunication.

8.       Mistrustful of Scientific Research

It is harmful to be mistrustful of science and scientific research if it does not agree with your faith. It makes people skeptical of professionals, such as myself. For instance, there is study after study showing that conversion therapy (AKA reparative therapy), which is the attempt to counsel a gay person into being straight, is EXTREMELY harmful. Yet the government of Utah has been fighting against ensuring this so-called therapy is banned.

Whether it is the vaccination issue, climate change, tea and coffee, sexual repression, or anything else that science has informed us about, it is extremely harmful to discount or cherry pick what you choose to believe. Yes, science is updating information and new theories may come forward in the future on certain topics. But some things have essentially been proven and we need to believe what has been found. Our best source of information is scientific research.

9.       Lying for the Lord

Church leaders have been dishonest about church history or difficult doctrines if it protects the reputation of the church. I will include several examples. Official church histories omit references to Joseph Smith smoking cigars and drinking (up to and including the day before he died) to make him look better. The use of ellipses (…) in church manuals, or at times a complete unacknowledged omission, has occurred when original sources discuss his drinking and smoking. Joseph Smith retrofitted different events into earlier accounts of church history, such as angelic beings ordaining him to the priesthood. Joseph and early church leaders, while practicing polygamy, specifically denied practicing it in official statements. In fact, Joseph’s practice of polygamy was lie after lie to his first wife, Emma. She was not aware of the vast majority of his approximately three dozen wives. The 1890 Manifesto to end polygamy did not actually end the practice. Leaders of the church continued to lie to the federal government by engaging in polygamous marriages until around 1904, when a second manifesto was given. President Wilford Woodruff himself took another wife in 1897.

Leaders of the church were misleading when asked about the Strengthening Church Members Committee, the group that keeps files on any disparaging internet activity of members. In a TV interview, then prophet Gordon B. Hinckley stated that he didn’t know much about the doctrine that God was once a man that had been exalted and stated that we don’t teach that in the church, which is definitively not the case. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has been dishonest on numerous occasions, such as stating that the church did not pay any money to Proposition 8, which was the fight against gay marriage in California. The church gave approximately $200,000. In another situation, Holland was asked in an interview if Mitt Romney, a Mormon presidential candidate in 2008, would have made oaths to cut his own throat before revealing information about temple ceremonies. Holland purposefully obfuscated the truth by denying it. After being pressed, Holland backtracked and stated that these oaths were taken out of the ceremony some time ago but were no longer part of it. Romney would have made this oath, however, as he received his endowment prior to 1990, when penalties were removed.

Church leaders and official church statements hide or obscure the history of the church when it is not faith promoting. Joseph Smith using the same rock in his hat to translate the Book of Mormon that he unsuccessfully used to find buried treasure was not discussed by the church until recent years. The Mountain Meadows Massacre and the numerous versions of the First Vision are both examples of things that were actively suppressed. And when changes are made, the church makes it sound like there was no change made and that it was never hidden. Members like myself, who have found these issues to be accurate rather than the anti-Mormon lies we were told they were, are then gaslighted into feeling like we were crazy for believing these things. The church leaders extol honesty but then, when it suits them, are not honest themselves.

The church doesn’t ever apologize for its mistakes (stated by First Presidency member Dallin H. Oaks), decision making through feelings is prioritized over critical thinking, the exaggeration of faith promoting stories such as the transfiguration of Brigham Young during the succession crisis, a belief in the church having a monopoly on the absolute and only correct way leading to self-critical/perfectionist/judgemental personalities, and condemnatory attitudes towards those that no longer believe or that leave the church are all harmful practices.

As I have stated before, I don’t hate the church. I want it to be better for the people that choose to stay. To be honest, I have thought long and hard about what role I want the church to play in my own life. I have thought about increasing my attendance, as it is my heritage. But for me to feel comfortable attending, I want the church to be more honest about its history. I want leaders to be more up front about how they receive revelation. I want them to recognize, admit to, and apologise for mistakes made both in the past and more recently. So, another thing that has changed is me being vocal. I was not too outspoken when I was a believer but I am now. People may wonder why. It is because I value honesty, and the church is not being honest about certain issues. I also want people in my situation to know they aren’t alone. If everyone just quietly faded away when they stopped attending, nothing would change or improve. By being vocal, I am trying to make the LDS community a better, safer place for those that leave and for those that stay.

For those active believing members of the church, please, PLEASE don’t dismiss this post. Whether you only take one point and make some kind of change, or whether it’s more, please think further into these items. Something on this list may directly affect you or a loved one at some point in your life. Be on the right side of what could potentially happen.

My next post will be my last. I may have other articles from those I have asked to write, but I will only write one more. I have thought long and hard on how I want to end these articles. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if the reason for my recent procrastination has been to give myself time to determine what I want to say as I wrap up my blog for good. I often doubt how many of my active LDS friends have actually read these but in the end, this is my personal therapy, and looking at it in that way, it is doing what I need it to. I hope, if nothing else, my own journey will become easier as a result of writing.